August 18, 2022

Cost of Wars a Rising Issue as Obama Weighs Troop Levels

As Mr. Obama begins trying to untangle the country from its military and civilian promises in Afghanistan, his critics and allies alike are drawing a direct line between what is not being spent to bolster the sagging economy in America to what is being spent in Afghanistan — $120 billion this year alone.

On Monday, the United States Conference of Mayors made that connection explicitly, saying that American taxes should be paying for bridges in Baltimore and Kansas City, not in Baghdad and Kandahar.

The mayors’ group approved a resolution calling for an early end to the American military role in Afghanistan and Iraq, asking Congress to redirect the billions now being spent on war and reconstruction costs toward urgent domestic needs. The resolution, which noted that local governments cut 28,000 jobs in May alone, was the group’s first venture into foreign policy since it passed a resolution four decades ago calling for an end to the Vietnam War.

And in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said: “We can no longer, in good conscience, cut services and programs at home, raise taxes or — and this is very important — lift the debt ceiling in order to fund nation-building in Afghanistan. The question the president faces — we all face — is quite simple: Will we choose to rebuild America or Afghanistan? In light of our nation’s fiscal peril, we cannot do both.”

Demonstrators describing themselves as “angry jobless citizens” said they would picket the Capitol on Wednesday to urge members of Congress to use any savings from Mr. Obama’s troop reductions to create more jobs. The group sponsoring the demonstration, the Prayer Without Ceasing Party, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was “urging the masses to call their congressmen and the president to ensure that jobs receive a top priority when the troops start returning to America.”

Spending on the war in Afghanistan has skyrocketed since Mr. Obama took office, to $118.6 billion in 2011. It was $14.7 billion in 2003, when President George W. Bush turned his attention and American resources to the war in Iraq.

The increase is easy to explain. When Mr. Obama took office, he vowed to aggressively pursue what he termed America’s “war of necessity” (Afghanistan) and to withdraw from America’s “war of choice” (Iraq). He has done so; the lines on Iraq and Afghanistan war spending crossed in 2010, when the United States spent $93.8 billion in Afghanistan versus $71.3 billion in Iraq, according to the Congressional Research Service.

But the White House is keenly aware that the president is heading into a re-election campaign; with the country’s jobless rate remaining high, topping 9 percent, his poll numbers on his handling of the domestic economy have plummeted.

“Do we really need to be spending $120 billion in a country with a G.D.P. that’s one-sixth that size?” asked Brian Katulis, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress, a policy group with close ties to the Obama administration. “Most Americans would be shocked to know that we’re spending that kind of money for jobs programs for former Taliban, and would wonder where are our jobs programs for Detroit and Cleveland?”

In 2010, Congress — at the Obama administration’s request — set aside $100 million to support programs in Afghanistan aimed at moving former insurgents off the battlefields and into the country’s mainstream economy. Those efforts — similar to what the Bush administration did in Iraq — have yet to bear much fruit; the 1,700 fighters who have enrolled in the reintegration program represent only a fraction of the estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Taliban insurgents, The New York Times reported Monday.

Carl Hulse contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=cf579e53bae2f1ee115bc7804043b0fe

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